Machine Monday: Hansen Writing Ball

Although the Sholes & Glidden is generally regarded as the first production typewriter in history, the Hansen writing ball in fact beat the S&G by no less than four years. The Reverend Rasmus Hans Malling Johan Hansen (1835-1890) worked as a teacher and as director of an institution for the deaf and dumb in Copenhagen. It was his desire to enable his pupils to ‘speak with their fingers’ that led him to develop his writing ball.

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The most striking feature of the writing ball is the semi-sphere on top of the machine, with 52 keys sticking out like a giant pin cushion. At the lower end of each stem is a character, cast in exactly the right angle to create a perfectly even print on the central printing point under the ball. The escapement mechanism moved the paper frame that held the paper one space until the end of the line was reached. By pushing the button on the left in front of the ball all the way down, the carriage was turned concentrically back to the beginning of the line and moved one line to the left.

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Hundreds of writing balls were produced and they were fairly widely sold.

Only a handful of writing balls are known to exist today.

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